Reading the Kamasutra

Reading the Kamasutra

Wendy Doniger






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(Hardback | ISBN 9789385288067 | 184 pages | July 2015)


The Kamasutra, composed in the third century CE, is the world’s most famous textbook of erotic love. There is nothing remotely like it even today, and for its time it was astonishingly sophisticated. Yet, it is all but ignored as a serious work in its country of origin—sometimes taken as a matter of national shame rather than pride—and in the rest of the world it is a source of amused amazement, and inspires magazine articles that offer ‘mattress-quaking sex styles’ such as ‘the backstairs boogie’ and ‘the spider web’.

In this scholarly and superbly readable book, one of the world’s foremost authorities on ancient Indian texts seeks to restore the Kamasutra to its proper place in the Sanskrit canon, as a landmark of India’s secular literature. She reveals to us fascinating aspects of the Kamasutra as a guide to the art of living for the cosmopolitan
beau monde of ancient India: its emphasis on grooming and etiquette (including post-coital conversation), the study and practice of the arts (ranging from cooking and composing poetry to colouring one’s teeth and mixing perfumes), and discretion and patience in conducting affairs (especially adulterous affairs). In its encyclopaedic social and psychological narratives, it also displays surprisingly modern ideas about gender and role-playing, female sexuality and homosexual desire.

Even as she draws our attention to the many ways in which the Kamasutra challenges the conventions of its time (and, often, ours)—in dismissing fertility as the aim of sex, for instance—Doniger also shows us how it perpetuates attitudes that have continued to darken human intercourse: passages that twin passion with violence, for example, and those that explain away women’s protests and exclamations of pain as part of a ploy to excite their male partners. In these, as in its more enlightened observations on sexual love, we see the nearly two- thousand-year-old Kamasutra mirror twentieth-century realities.

In helping us understand a celebrated but under-appreciated text, Doniger has produced a rich and compelling text of her own that will interest, delight and surprise scholars and lay readers alike.


Click here to read an excerpt from the book.


‘An utterly enjoyable, accessible and illuminating work on a text that is universally known but woefully misunderstood’
—Sidin Vadukut, Livemint

‘Wendy Doniger has finally done justice to the Kamasutra by placing it in an eminent position in the body of Indian treatises.’
—Roberto Calasso, The New York Review of Books

‘One of the definitive guides to making sense of an ancient encyclopaedia of sexual behaviour’
—Sarthak Ray, Financial Express

‘We are reminded, yet again, of the depth and expanse of [Wendy Doniger’s] knowledge of Indian texts, her unique ability to see how they connect, her birds-eye view of how a culture constructs itself…We are made aware, yet again, of how much we have lost in terms of basic dignities afforded to women in our culture’
—Arshia Sattar, Open

‘Vatsyayana tells us that human desire is a matter of culture far more than that of nature, which is a principal theme of this wonderful collection by the Sanskrit scholar Wendy Doniger. It prodded me to go back and read the Kamasutra, and I discovered to my delight that it is not a sex manual but a charming, surprisingly modern guide to the art of living’
—Gurcharan Das, Outlook

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About the author

Wendy Doniger

Wendy Doniger is the author of several acclaimed and bestselling works, among them, The Hindus: An Alternative History; Hindu Myths; On Hinduism; Siva, the Erotic Ascetic; Dreams, Illusion and Other realities; and translations of the Rig Veda and the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). She is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of […]

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